It’s the Fourth of July in northeastern Pennsylvania. Naturally I’m partying with kin in Hilldale. A gang of cousins and I go to nearby Wilkes~Barre to see the historical exhibitions in the Square.
“Northeastern Pa.’s loaded with military history,” Joe and Ron, our Viet Nam veteran cousins, remind us. “Remember,” Ron said. “We have to leave soon to see Queen Esther’s Bloody Rock in Wyoming Borough.”
At the end of our day, we get to go to Jitty Joe’s, in Scranton, for ice cream. That’s all so mundane, even with all the toppings, compared to what we see here.
It was a crisp bright Saturday morning one long ago Fourth of July weekend quite a few years ago. I was visiting Uncle Frankie in West Wyoming. As he occasionally does, he was telling me quite a lot of long stories about life before World War II. From out of nowhere, the phone rang. It was my cousin Vinnie, in Hilldale. He explained that he desperately wanted me to take him to Jitty Joe’s, in Moosic, for ice cream. Everyone knows theirs is the best. Since I really wanted to get the ice cream I was getting so overwhelmingly frustrated at Uncle Frankie’s story telling. Conveniently he only lives around two and a half miles away from Hilldale so it would only take me a few minutes to get there to pick up Vinnie. Moosic is about twenty five minutes from there though, and we desperately needed ice cream so once we started to go, we’d really had to fly like crazy. It’s always been quite an addiction for us. Eventually my raconteur uncle ran out of anecdotes about all our long-deceased, and mostly long-forgotten kin. I took advantage of his having run out of steam, and reminded him that Vinnie and I desperately needed ice cream so he let me go. With absolutely no remaining time whatsoever to lose, I ran out his front door, down to my car, and drove as fast as possible to Hilldale to pick up Vinnie. From there, we drove at about eighty miles per hour, on River Road and Route 81, until we finally arrived at our destination. It was worth it.
Although I haven’t traveled very far, and haven’t even seen any foreign country except Canada, I can think of quite a lot of interesting things I’ve seen in different places. Having been to places ranging from Florida and Illinois to Washington D.C. and Michigan, I’ve tasted a wide variety of good food, seen many landmarks and a lot of fine scenery so it may be quite impossible to choose any one thing that I should want to clone in order to have it permanently with me.
If I were ever really forced, though, to pick one thing, I should like to have Jitty Joe’s, the famous ice cream parlor on Birney Avenue in Moosic, in Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania. They have, without question, absolutely the very best ice cream I know of. Everyone who goes there is quite crazy about it. Having spent a significant amount of time in northeastern Pennsylvania, I’ve often gone there to check out their wide variety of flavors. They sell cones, sundaes, sodas, shakes and any other kind of things that can possibly be made with either ice or ice cream.
Unfortunately since there’s not so much demand for ice cream during the cold months they’re only opened for a fairly short time each year. During that period, though, it’s most certainly quite a fantasy land. If I could have it here with me, within walking distance, I could go there much more frequently during the warm months. Within only a very short time frame, I could have an opportunity to try each of their seemingly infinite variety of flavors of ice cream, sodas, and toppings, ranging from bubble gum and teaberry to rocky road, peanut butter, and chocolate chip. I’ve always had quite an insatiable sweet tooth so if I were close to someplace like this I could count on being able to have quite a regular feast. There are a lot of benches outside to enjoy the warm weather and scenery. It’s such an exceptionally interesting environment.
I was born in northeastern Pennsylvania and have lived in New York for most of my lifetime, with the exception of my first three and a half years, and for seven and a half of the past eight years. During that time I lived in northeastern Pennsylvania. If I were ever to be forced to pick only two places between which to split all my time I should have to pick Long Beach, New York, where I live right now, and the surrounding region of Long Island, as one of them. The other would be northeastern Pennsylvania.Since I have spent so very much time in each of these places, and have always felt so very comfortable in them both, it would be an ideal arrangement for me. Long Beach is only about an hour’s train ride, on the Long Island Railroad, from Manhattan and the other boroughs of New York City. I could do quite a lot of sightseeing there. My recent trips to Manhattan were exceptionally interesting. Eventually I really want to get into the habit of going to Queens every once in a while so I can feel really comfortable with the trip in case I ever have a chance to visit my old neighborhood in Jackson Heights and to go to a St. Gabriel’s reunion in East Elmhurst. It’s also very close to Suffolk County. While I’m here I can have a nice time visiting my cousins in eastern Nassau County and Suffolk County. By staying here I can have a really easy time getting to Lindenhurst to visit my old neighborhood there, and to West Islip for reunions at St. John the Baptist. In the immediate vicinity of Long Beach, there’s a nice self-contained world, with a business district, a beach and really nice neighborhoods.
Besides Long Beach I should really like to spend the rest of my time in northeastern Pennsylvania. I’ve only lived there for around seven and a half years as an adult but I’m quite accustomed to it because, since my parents were both from there, I’ve been visiting it throughout all my lifetime. It took me quite a while to get accustomed to driving through the steep Poconos but the scenery is perfect. The Susquehanna River is quite an impressive sight. Aunt Lauren, and Michelle and her family, live in Harding and Dallas so I can visit them frequently. Krissy Krissy Krissy and her family live only around an hour away so I can visit them sometimes too. There are a lot of nice places to see and things to do on a significantly smaller scale than New York. There are no significant cosmopolitan hot spots there but they have concerts I can attend. One day seven years ago my cousin Gino and I went to a Meat Loaf concert at the Toyota Pavilion at Montage Mountain in Scranton. They even have Jitty Joe’s Ice Cream in nearby Moosic too. If I were ever forcibly restricted to only two places in the world , I could honestly say that I could count on being my happiest in those two.
Junk food has always been quite a major weakness of mine. Whenever I’m anywhere near even the general vicinity of ice cream, cake, candy or any other exceptionally tasty dessert, I go plum out of control. At least it’s not an entirely destructive weakness though. I always tell Mary Anne and Steve about my long standing habit of virtually never being the first one to open any container of food, and that includes dessert of any kind. At my old Knights of Columbus council, Council 794 in Lindenhurst, New York, they used always to have Dunkin’ Donuts at their bingo games. I invariably ended up making sure I got some when I helped at the games. Once in a while I take advantage of coupons I get for discounts at Dunkin’ Donuts and go somewhat overboard. That’s only one example of the many kinds of desserts that can send me totally into a state of rapture. If I were ever forced to live anywhere near the immediate vicinity of someplace like Jitty Joe’s, the famous Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania ice cream parlor, I should end up having to go completely overboard. It’s in Moosic. I truly enjoy all their favors, especially the distinctive ones like teaberry, rocky road, or anything with lots of fudge, nuts and syrup in it. Everyone who’s ever been to Jitty Joe’s acknowledges it as the best ice cream known to mankind. Grablick’s was in West Pittston, in Luzerne County, when I was a kid. Their ice cream was exceptional too, but Jitty Joe’s is quite a worthy successor. I find it quite impossible to believe when someone informs me that he doesn’t like chocolate or some other dessert. Ever since I was a kid, home made apple pie has always been my very favorite dessert, though pie from a store, including apple, isn’t all that good. I’ve already covered this topic before so I shall just refer to the gist of it. I enjoy all kinds of sweet things, dessert in general. The only thing that bothers me is when I get something sticky that either melts or drips down my chin or any other part of me. That’s quite a seriously annoying and frustrating feeling. I honestly don’t think I have any kind of a neurotic attachment to dessert. The best part of my fondness for sweet gooey food is that when my supply has run out I don’t end up missing it to the point of having to go overboard. I have quite a happy healthy relationship with my sweet tooth.
I’ve never had any one specific sweet food or dessert that can be classified as the only one that’s simply irresistible, although home made apple pie , ever since I was a kid, has always been my very favorite pie. I’ve always had quite an insatiable appetite for chocolate and other flavors of dessert. My one and only advantage, when it comes to this problem, is that I’ve never been especially compulsive, in a neurotic kind of way. When the absolutely ultimate ice cream, candy or whatever is, alas, all gone, I’m quite content to wait until the next time it’s available, though I know that very many people have such a hard time with that. My problem is that until it’s gone I can go nuts constantly absent mindedly eating it. Whenever there’s a significant amount of candy, ice cream or some other nice dessert around I always wander over to it and keep incessantly eating. When my cousins and I used to bowl together with the Knights of Columbus in Wantagh I was quite notorious for my habit of incessantly eating Cheez Doodles, simply because they were constantly there. The last time Mary Anne, Steve and I drove to Pennsylvania, to spend a little while in Wyoming, we stopped at such an especially nice old fashioned candy store, Sweet Expressions by Geri, in Denville, New Jersey. It was like a kind of ultimate fantasy land for me, filled with such overwhelmingly enchanting colors and smells. The entire time I was there it took quite an enormous amount of will power for me not to buy anything significant. It’s the kind of place someone would expect a real Willie Wonka to have. I’ve always been overly fond of things like chocolate, marshmallow, caramel, rocky road and anything rich and creamy. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups can drive me crazy too. In Moosic, Pennsylvania, there’s a really nice place named Jitty Joe’s. They sell the best ice cream I’ve tasted since Grablick’s that was in West Pittston when I was a kid. As nice as Mr. Softee and all those other kinds of ice cream companies are, Jitty Joe’s has everyone beaten. They have all the flavors I’ve referred to, and very many more. As smitten as I’ve always been with desserts and all the sweeter richer foods life has to offer it’s quite a good thing I make sure they’re not constantly available.
The Fourth of July went so well this year. As always we ended up visiting my father’s relatives in Hilldale for a few days. The weather was perfect for anyone who enjoys the heat. Most of the kin showed up. Mary Anne and Steve, as well as Michael, Sam and Bridget, were here. Unfortunately, though, Erin wasn’t available. My mother still has lots of trouble with her cancer so she couldn’t go. Each of us took turns staying with her. I was especially happy to see Maelene, Joe and most of their family from North Tonawanda, and Vinnie from North Carolina, as well as Larry, Rose & their family from Massapequa. Anthony showed up from Brooklyn too. An inevitable reality of this occasion is the incessant reminiscing. Predictably we all got together & relived our past circumstances, especially the kin’s obnoxious references to all my supposedly bad driving. We also celebrated relevant birthdays and anniversaries. Rich, the Ronald’s son, got me an especially nice poster of Beatle Ringo Starr. Alas there was no softball game but I don’t play anyway. One night several of the cousins went to Friendly’s but I didn’t go. I was too tired. Unfortunately we didn’t go to Jitty Joe’s. Michael and I made sure we got our traditional cigars though. Music, religion and politics, and current events provided much conversation. I spent lots of time in the pool so I made sure I pot on lots of sun screen. The lay Carmelite meetings have been going well lately in Wilkes Barre, at the Little Flower Manor. So have Fr. McKernan’s men’s group meetings at Our Lady of Sorrows. Recently Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church at St. Joseph Marello Parish, on William Street in Pittston had their annual bizarre. I made sure I spent around an hour there each night. It was a very nice time. My mother still needs a lot of medical attention but we’re keeping track of it well. Aunt Lauren, Uncle Frankie and Fran come over fairly frequently and Mary Anne and family come in whenever they can.
August is quite a busy birthday month for my kin. This coming Friday will be Mary Anne’s birthday so she, Steve & Bridget came in this past weekend for a party. It was on Saturday. Neither Michael nor Sam was available. They both had to work. Uncle Frankie, Aunt Lauren, Uncle Jim & Benjamin all showed up. Although Aunt Lauren got very badly hurt a while ago, she seems to be doing quite well so far. At least it’s good to see that she’s already back on her feet & partying. Benjamin’s been getting very big & talkative lately. I think he’s around nine years old now. Uncle Jim’s birthday was on Sunday. Fran wasn’t available though. She spent her birthday, August 2, in Canada with a friend. They both showed up yesterday, after a visit to Uncle Frankie’s with souvenirs for us. As always the cuisine was exceptionally good but entirely too fattening. Steve & I even went to Antonio’s in the Midway to get pizza & chicken wings. Their prices have gone up unfortunately. It’s still quite a really good place though. We haven’t been to Sizzle Pie in Kingston in quite a while. As always Mary Anne & family made their predictable pilgrimage to Weggmann’s. They don’t have one in their part of New York & everyone’s really crazy about it. Of course Steve made sure he took a few people on his plum inevitable jaunt to Jitty Joe’s. Alas I wasn’t available. That was the night I went to 7:00 p.m. Mass at O. L. Sorrows. Yesterday was Gary’s & Maria’s twenty~ninth wedding anniversary so I made sure I sent them an e mail congratulating them. It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was in their wedding party. Today’s Autilia’s birthday too. She’s cousin Lanfranco’s wife. Unfortunately the air conditioner in my car hasn’t worked for quite a long time so I shall have to ask Frank Gubbiotti to fix it for me very soon. There’s quite a major heat wave going on right now. We also get extremely violent rainstorms, with thunder & lightning, on a regular basis lately. A man even recently got killed by lightning at Pocono Downs Racetrack recently. This past week O. L. Sorrows held a blood drive. I really wish I could have donated blood but I already gave a donation too recently.
Yesterday was Father’s Day. On Saturday afternoon Mary Anne, Steve & Bridget, along with their dog, surprised my parents by showing up & staying overnight. Steve, being Steve, got my mother, Bridget & me to go to Jitty Joe’s in Moosic with him for ice c ream. I got a bowl of praline ice cream. Early yesterday we all went to Perkins, on Rte 315 in Dupont, for a really nice breakfast. They were forced to leave early to pick up Sam at the airport. He was in Florida visiting his other grandmother. Michael & Erin were visiting her parents. Uncle Frankie has been visiting Fran for the past few days so I go to his house regularly to pick up his mail. I’m in the habit of attending 8:30 Mass each Sunday morning at St. Joseph’s on Sixth Street but yesterday I went to 11:00 Mass at O.L. Sorrows. After Mass, when I stopped at Unimart on Wyoming Avenue, I ran into Gino, Michelle & the kids outside the store. On Saturday morning I attended our monthly Lay Carmelite meeting on South Meade Street in Wilkes_Barre. We meet at the Little Flower Manor on the third Saturday morning of each monthe. We welcome new people who are interested in joining. Sister Mary Robert wasn’t available but Msgr. Grimaglia was with us. Unfortunately, O.L.P.H., my old grammar school on Wellwood Avenue in Lindenhurst, N.Y., is now closed permanently. On the bright side, Msgr. Bob Brennan, an alumnus of both O.L.P.H. & St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School in West Islip, N.Y. , has recently been named an auxiliary bishop in the Rockville Centre Diocese. Today is Beatle Paul McCartney’s seventieth birthday. We hall hope he has such an especially fab time.
Fr. Justin Belitz OFM is the founder of the Franciscan Hermitage and author of "Success: Full Living," "Success: Full Thinking," & "Success: Full Relating." His teachings incorporate spirituality, science, and art for personal growth and development.